Car reviews - Hyundai - Kona - Electric Highlander
Solid driving range, premium cabin, engaging dynamics, usable power
Room for improvement
Far too expensive, heavy on its wheels, vague brake feel, floaty suspension tune
Kona Electric a viable but costly powertrain option for popular Hyundai small SUV
22 Mar 2019
THERE has been a lot of hype surrounding the Hyundai Kona Electric since it was revealed at last year’s Geneva show, and rightly so.
In the still-small electric vehicle (EV) market, the South Korean charger was to offer plausible pure electric motoring for the masses, well, almost.
With 450 kilometres of driving range and 150kW/395Nm packed into the highly popular Kona small SUV body, it occupies a space of its own in the EV segment, however, its relatively high price point may prove a big ask for would-be owners.
Hyundai Motor Company Australia (HMCA) launched the vehicle in Adelaide this month, revealing a starting price of $59,990 plus on-road costs for the Elite grade, and $64,490 for the Highlander.
For perspective, the standard, conventionally powered Kona Elite 2WD and Highlander 2WD – the models upon which the Kona Electrics are based – are currently priced at $29,500 and $35,500, respectively.
Does the Hyundai Kona Electric justify its steep price point?
Putting pricing aside, Hyundai’s latest offering is indeed a compelling EV prospect – both on paper, and on the road.
Aesthetically, the car appears very similar to the standard Kona, distinguished by a closed grille, wavy rear bumper and bespoke 17-inch alloys, but Hyundai’s local wing is adamant that the Electric is its own model and should not be considered the top-spec version of the current Kona range.
Full disclosure, the South Korean brand did not provide access to the Kona Electric Elite, and so we were only able to trial the range-topping Highlander.
The Kona Electric Highlander is packed with Hyundai’s top-end features, with a unique and premium feeling cabin and all the safety, entertainment and comfort features you could poke a stick at.
It’s equipped with a 64kWh lithium-ion battery combined with a front-mounted electric motor sending drive to the front wheels, and can be charged to 80 per cent in 54 minutes when combined with a 100kW fast charger.
Connected to a regular household plug, however, and charging times run well over nine hours.
Our launch route took us 299 kilometres through Adelaide’s countryside – not ideal EV terrain as regenerative braking opportunities were few and far between.
And as far as we’re concerned, all the standard tech and equipment is just window dressing if the EV cannot meet its 449 kilometre claimed driving range, so we put that theory to the test.
Stepping into the Kona Electric and you are met with a similar sight and feel as the regular Kona small SUV, with the cabin distinguished mainly by a floating centre console and shift-by-wire buttons replacing a conventional automatic shifter.
The feel is premium, with leather upholstery, a unique digital cluster with a head-up display, and a familiar 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system.
An Electric-specific menu is available on the display, showing things like battery status, regenerative braking and range data, which helps ease the dread of range anxiety.
Other notable creature comforts include heated and ventilated seats, a crisp eight-speaker audio system, a wireless smartphone charger, heated steering wheel and glass sunroof.
The Kona Electric comes standard with Hyundai’s SmartSense safety package, meaning that a fistful of driver-assistance systems are onboard including forward collision avoidance, active cruise
control, driver-attention warning, lane keep assist, blind-spot monitoring and rear cross traffic alert.
Take off, and you begin to feel the difference compared to the petrol-powered model. The ride is smooth, and planted – a likely symptom of its 1743kg kerb weight caused by the heavy batteries underneath.
The unique-to-Australia suspension and steering tune helps manage the weight gain, however it can feel cumbersome in turns and makes for a wallowy ride on bumpy roads.
Three driving modes are on offer – Eco, Comfort and Sport – which affect throttle and suspension sensitivity, and make a significant difference to the feel of the car.
In Sport, the Kona Electric is surprisingly direct and, well, sporty, while Eco and Comfort do as you would expect, giving a more sedate driving experience and saving on juice.
Behind the steering wheel sits paddle shifters which, rather than adjust transmission gearing, allow the driver to adjust the intensity of the regenerative braking.
With the left paddle held, the car will come to a complete stop without using the brake pedal, and using the front radar sensor, the Kona Electric can autonomously control the energy regeneration while driving in traffic.
‘Shifting’ the regenerative braking up a level gives the feeling of shifting down gears with a regular transmission, and so we found that we used the brake pedal much less than we would in a standard car.
When we did use the brake pedal, we found it to be a little vague, taking away from otherwise strong on-road feedback.
Power is impressive, with lots of mid-range on tap for overtaking at highway speeds, and instant torque only achievable with a vehicle of this kind.
Hyundai claims that the Electric will sprint from zero to 100km/h in 7.6 seconds, and we have no reason to doubt that. In fact, it may have been a little conservative with that figure.
Top speed is rated at around 170km/h, however, our driving route was restricted to the road, so we were unable to confirm this claim.
Driving primarily in Sport mode, and with the air-conditioning and ventilated seats turned on, it soon became obvious that Hyundai’s 449 kilometre driving range figure is accurate.
If we were to keep driving, it would have achieved that figure with ease, and in an environment that allows heavier regenerative braking, we predict that the Kona Electric would travel well above the 500 kilometre mark on a single charge.
With Hyundai’s claims well-and-truly stacking up, the Kona Electric may well be positioned to be a high seller as it joins the brand’s Ioniq Electric, the Renault Zoe, Tesla Model S and Model X, and the upcoming Nissan Leaf in the EV market.
Of course, that is contingent on whether or not buyers can justify the pricetag.
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